This book is Volume 185 in the long line of the Ecological Studies series published by Springer—these familiar green books found in many research university libraries. Maarten Kappelle, the editor, has done a wonderful job of bringing together various researchers and practitioners to compile a comprehensive and up-to-date look at an often overlooked tropical forest region. He was obviously the right person for the job as his passion and career involve the neotropical montane region. As a person unfamiliar with this region, I found myself fascinated with the collaboration of numerous authors and the breadth and depth of work regarding these oak (Quercus spp.) ecosystems. The holistic approach used in this book, ranging from trees and herbaceous plants to fungi and bryophytes, and from large and small wildlife to ecosystem functions and services, is the envy of future attempts worldwide to so exhaustively cover a specific region. I learned a lot about tropical oak ecosystems that could be useful in better understanding our temperate oak ecosystems.
The book has 34 chapters divided into 7 sections. Each chapter is short and concise, allowing for a maximum number of contributions. Many summarize research conducted by individual authors within specific ecosystems in the neotropical montane oak region or provide original research, including methods and analyses. Section I (1 chapter) introduces readers to neotropical montane oak forests, primarily through the taxonomy and distribution of the various oak species found in the region. Section II (6 chapters) synthesizes the paleoecology and biogeographic information from the region, including oak species migration patterns and studies on the distributions and ecology of fungi, lichens, and bryophytes. Section III (4 chapters) describes oak stand compositions and structures ranging from central and eastern Mexico to Colombia, which represent the northern and southern boundaries of neotropical montane oak forests, respectively. Section IV (4 chapters) reviews the population dynamics of oak reproduction, small mammals, and understorey plant species. Section V (12 chapters) describes ecosystem dynamics, including disturbance, succession, regeneration, and wildlife. Section VI (5 chapters) revolves around the theme of conservation and sustainable use. Finally, Section VII (1 chapter) synthesizes the findings from the previous 33 chapters, and concludes with a discussion of ecosystem recovery and conservation. A wealth of citations is provided at the end of each chapter, many in Spanish.
Essentially, this book summarizes current knowledge about neotropical montane oak ecosystems. These ecosystems are less studied than the lowland neotropical and tropical forests around the world. The neotropical montane oak forests from central and southern Mexico to northern South America represent a transition from true temperate forest ecosystems to the north and the tropical forest ecosystems to the south; therefore, they contain species mixtures representative of both temperate and tropical forests.
One shortcoming, especially for those unfamiliar with the region, is the lack of an introductory chapter describing the neotropical montane oak region in general, including a map of the various countries and major cities, broad vegetation types, and distribution of oaks in the region (such as Figure 34.1 in Chapter 34). A table listing the various oak species found in the neotropical montane region, along with common names and various silvical characteristics, would also be helpful. Other chapters provide impressive lists of biodiversity, including fungi (Chapter 5), lichens (Chapter 6), and bryophytes (Chapter 7).
As a silviculturist, I would have preferred more information on proven silvicultural techniques in the management of these forested ecosystems. Several chapters conclude with broad recommendations for ecosystem restoration, primarily through planting various tree species. Chapter 28 is the first to address explicit use of silviculture, giving recommendations depending on floristic formation and site conditions. The shelterwood regeneration method is recommended for xeric forests, while the selection method is recommended for mesic forests. Given the difficulties we face with the selection method for temperate oak forests, I am hesitant to follow recommendations regarding uneven-aged regeneration methods that use “selective” felling of mature trees above a specified minimum diameter without knowledge of the long-term effects on the regeneration dynamics of the harvested species. Often, these long-term effects involve a shifting of species composition to more shade-tolerant species.
It was apparent throughout this book that there is still much research to be conducted. I wondered how these pure and mixed-species oak stands initiated. Given that oaks in many of the temperate forests follow some sort of major disturbance, what role does disturbance play in the establishment and development of these oak forests? Figure 17.1 (Chapter 17) provides an excellent conceptual model of successional development following disturbance for oak–bamboo forests in Costa Rica. Additional information along these lines will be needed before hypotheses regarding silvicultural practices can be tested. Simply put, more information is needed on disturbance patterns and stand development pathways in neotropical montane oak forests before site- and stand-specific silvicultural recommendations can be made.
There are several typographical errors and data presentation inconsistencies. For example, basal area values in Table 8.2 (Chapter 8) are listed in m2/ha, while basal area values in Chapter 9 are listed in cm2 and summarized to m2 at the plot level, requiring the reader to calculate per hectare values for comparison with other chapters. Finally, as one who became quite fascinated with this region, the further I read through the book, the more photographs I would have liked to see. It should be noted that many of the chapters present up-to-date knowledge and the authors explicitly point out the need for more information. The lack of published information on many aspects of the ecology and management of neotropical montane oak forests presents opportunities for future research.
This book will be of great value to managers, researchers, teachers, and students who work in the Americas neotropical montane region. It also will be valuable to ecologists, forest managers, and researchers throughout the world as a means of synthesizing current knowledge regarding the ecology and conservation—including social, economic, and cultural issues—of a forested region. Unfortunately, the cost of the book will be prohibitive to many.